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Davos diary: Badges of honour
Conference on 'rethinking' the economy is one big exercise in navigating hierarchies.
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2010 08:22 GMT

This year the World Economic Forum's slogan is 'Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild' [AFP]

The 40th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is taking place in Davos, Switzerland from January 27 to January 31.

Al Jazeera's Tristan Redman is in Davos and has been writing daily on the events taking place there.

Day Two: Navigating the participant hierarchies

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is not about business. It's not about politics. It's not even about economics, really. It's all about badges.
 
In Davos, the kind of accreditation badge you wear is everything. It defines you. Wear the wrong type and you're worthless. But the right one means you have well and truly arrived. It means there are parties somewhere in town that not even the CIA know about. And they're just for you.
 
I heard a rumour that there are 38 different levels of security badges at the World Economic Forum. I asked the organisers. They didn't know the real figure. I think 38 might be an underestimate.
 
The white badges are for participants, leaders from politics, business, academia and the media. The top one per cent of the top one percent. But they don't want a white badge. They want the holy of holiest: a white badge with a hologram on it. These are reserved for world leaders, presidents, prime ministers. I don't know if even Bill Gates gets one of these.
 
Underneath the white badges are the grunts. Orange for press. Blue for WEF organisers. A slightly different shade of blue for slightly lowlier WEF organisers. I don't know who the green badges are for. And I won't start on the sub-categories within the categories.
 
When people walk around in Davos, they don't look at the people walking towards them. They watch the badges. If they see a name they think they recognise, they glance up six inches and see if it really is somebody interesting.
 
But for all the rigid hierarchical structure, there is something liberatingly egalitarian about Davos. It may be the only place in the world where you can approach Lakshmi Mittal and start a conversation. It may be the only place in the world where Rupert Murdoch wears sneakers.
 
The badges in Davos are technologically sophisticated. They store information about me. They say where I may go and where I may not. They're made by a company called Nagra, a subsidiary of the Kudelski Group, apparently. What is this organisation? The internet says the company is "legendary for its professional recording equipment." But I don't know anymore because their website doesn't work.
 
I hope they haven't gone bust.
 
Somehow I doubt it.

Day One: All quiet on eve of forum

This is the 40th year that the World Economic Forum (WEF) has taken over the small Alpine resort town of Davos.

Right now the place is locked down by security, the roads are blocked up and you are nobody unless you are shuttled around in a chauffeured Audi.

But on the day before the summit, it is remarkable how little attention the locals pay to the circus that has hit town. The skiers keep on skiing. The schools are open. The buses are running. People here have either got used to it, or they are just not that interested.

Perhaps it is understandable. Everyone is a skier here. And from the slopes 2,000m up the mountain, the self-important people down in the valley look pretty insignificant.

There is a subdued atmosphere in the conference centre this year. A lot of the big names have stayed away. There is no Bono and no Angelina Jolie. Henry Kissinger is not coming.

Thinking big

But that has not stopped the organisers from thinking big. They are pledging to "Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild" the global economy.

It all sounds a little too familiar, though. A year ago they were pledging to "shape the post crisis world". So have they run out of ideas, or have we not moved on since 2009?
 
Either way, it is unclear what this year's WEF will be about. Many are expecting it to be overshadowed by the catastrophe in Haiti. There are two special sessions scheduled about the relief effort, one of them led by Bill Clinton.

Reaction to the Afghanistan summit in London on Thursday will also feature. Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, the three main candidates in Afghanistan's election, will all attend.

Others are saying Davos will be dominated by wrangling over Barack Obama's proposals to reform banking.
 
In the last few years, though, the most memorable events have been the ones nobody expected.

In 2009, it was Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, walking out on Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, and vowing never to return to Davos.

In 2008, it was speculation about Societe Generale trader Jerome Kerviel and the missing billions. That feels a long time ago. Now we live in the post-Madoff world where $7.2bn is small change.

Maybe this year the forum will surprise us all and stick to the programme.
 
A familiar feeling hit me this afternoon, the day before the start of the forum. Then I realised the last time I felt it, years ago. I was at school and it was the night before my exams.

There is a lot of work to do in the next four days. I am not sure yet if it will be fun. But I know that it will feel great when it is over.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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